WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A female Orca was spotted carrying her dead calf Thursday in an unknown length of mourning.
- The mother orca has been swimming with the corpse evidently to keep it from sinking.
- She has reportedly been doing this for more than 2 weeks which experts say an act of grieving.
Authorities report a heartbreaking situation as a female orca was seen carrying her dead calf after more than two weeks.
The mother orca, known as Tahlequah (or J35 to researchers), was still apparently mourning the loss of her female calf and has been swimming with the corpse in an attempt push it to the surface to prevent it from completely sinking. The two were spotted Thursday afternoon.
Killer whales, or Orcas, are known to be highly social.
“This kind of behavior is like a period of mourning and has been seen before. What’s extraordinary about this is the length of time” says Michael Milstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s West Coast Region.
Researchers have reported about another female orca in the same pod named Scarlet or J50 who’s affected by an infection and was recently given antibiotics for her recovery. Scientists are concerned because Scarlet has been suffering from significant weight loss.
There are about 75 female orcas in the Southern Resident population and in three years, not one has had a successful birth. Additionally, only 25% of their offspring have survived in the last two decades.
Whale Sanctuary Project president Lori Marino, says that orca brains are large and complex which make them capable of deep feelings such as grief. Grieving is common, scientists say, among mammals like whales, elephants, dolphins and deer.
“What exactly she’s feeling we’ll never know. But the bonds between mothers and calves are extremely strong. Everything we know about them says this is grieving” adds Marino.
Ken Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research, commented that it is a “genuine mourning”, noting that the female orca had it going for so long, traveling a great distance with the almost-decomposed dead calf.
A major concern, according to scientists, is the significantly diminished food source for this group of killer whales, particularly because they consume only salmon. However, overfishing of salmon and inventions such as hydroelectric power sources both contribute to the dwindling salmon population.
The threat of extinction also ensues, given the fact that killer whales do not breed quickly. It actually takes a long time for them to have babies, considering that a calf takes almost a year and a half to fully develop in the womb, plus another year to nurse.
Balcomb adds that baby orcas need to learn how to swim immediately and are dependent on their mothers for food for the first few years.